Sauter rejoins Truck Series title war with Dover 3rd
Johnny Sauter used a well-engineered third-place finish in Friday'sLucas Oil 200 at Dover International Speedway to inject himself and his No. 98 Nextant Aerospace / Curb Records Toyota Tundra squarely into the middle of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series point race.
Sauter dodged a wheel-warping issue that plagued both of his ThorSport Racing teammates, former Truck Series point leader Matt Crafton and Jeb Burton -- costing each a wrecked Tundra. It enabled Sauter to have a solid day in the top 10, which included a late run of nearly 15 laps in second place behind ultimate winner Kyle Busch.
The result was Sauter's fourth top-six finish in five races this season and it came at a time when the team needs to conserve its equipment after a rough patch in the season's early races.
"We had a solid day, and it was an eventful day," Sauter said while in the midst of about a dozen members of the 436th and 512th Air Wings from Dover Air Force Base that were 'attached' to ThorSport as its guests for the weekend. "We weren't the fastest truck by any means. We could run comparable lap times to the leaders most of the day about 20 to 25 laps into a run.
"I think we've got a pretty good idea of where our short-run speed was, but nonetheless a solid points day for us and the truck is in one piece. Sometimes that's easier said than done at a place like Dover."
And that's critical in a stretch where the series races four times in five weeks, including next weekend's race at Texas Motor Speedway, the fast, bumpy intermediate oval where Sauter's had great success in the recent past.
Sauter left Dover tied for second in the championship with defending Series drivers' champion Crafton, a single point behind Timothy Peters, who shares a unique piece of Truck Series trivia with the ThorSport pair.
Peters led the championship after the 2014 Daytona season opener and he's the only Truck Series driver besides Sauter and Crafton that has led the championship since the 2013 Daytona opener -- though that's only been for two single weeks, by himself.
Sauter had a low-key 13 minutes of practice Thursday and, when that session was rained-out and there were only 35 trucks in Dover, NASCAR decided to drop qualifying and replace it with a one-hour final practice early Friday afternoon.
Sauter started sixth and, with only four cautions interrupting the last 173 laps while three flew in the first 27 circuits, proved what kind of Tundra he had. Sauter was never scored lower than seventh in the entire race and was never outside the top-four in the last 120 laps of 200 and Sauter knew why.
"I'm just proud of my guys on the Nextant Aerospace Curb Records Toyota -- especially the over-the-wall guys -- because they were phenomenal," Sauter said of the crew that works at the ThorSport shop in Sandusky, Ohio, every day. "They've made gains by leaps and bounds on pit stops. (Friday) we maintained.
"They've done a lot of work making that matter and I think that this finish has probably a lot to do with that because it's been a struggle point for us all year."
Dealing with Busch has been the same type of struggle, as the Sprint Cup interloper has won four-of-five Truck races this season including sweeping the first two events of the Dover weekend. Even though Busch fell back in the field when he was caught by an inopportune yellow flag he ultimately came to the fore.
"We just for whatever reason were a long-run truck and I kind of had an idea of that in practice," Sauter said. "I didn't run my fastest lap in practice until lap 18, I think it was. So, having said that we knew we were going to be good on the long run.
"We just needed to try to get some short-run speed out of it. We started the race just a little bit too tight and made some air pressure adjustments (but) I felt like I was on the splitter there just a little bit too hard to really make a run at them -- that 51 (Busch) was pretty stout."
And now the series goes to Texas for another Friday night race, where Sauter won the Keystone Light Pole Award in June 2013 and swept both race wins in 2012.
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